I am cramped in an airplane, sandwiched between my husband and a man whose language is not my own. He (the stranger) resists when I instinctively grab for his lunch tray to pass it to the flight attendant after he’s finished eating. I don’t know why my gesture of helpfulness is rebuffed. Today, we are leaving behind Lisbon: its whitewashed houses with their clay-tiled roofs, its stunning sun-lit landscapes, its friendly people and their melodic, lilting language. We’ve traveled for work, not play, and although I do not mean to solicit sympathy (one friend emails, “work trip. feh.”), I am keen to insist on the quality of our time away, which was crowded with strangers, group excursions, late-night business dinners, and midnight phone calls to the children. The Bible reading plan I’d copied ambitiously in my journal was abandoned early on. Mornings seemed to come too quickly to begin them with prayer.
I am feeling bad about this today – apologetic even, although I can’t be sure if I’m sorry is the same thing as a confession. It feels like a pathetic way to make up for having neglected God, an adolescent gesture that is probably more motivated by my own desire to ingratiate myself once again, especially now that I have a book to write. These amends somehow seem more necessary with a deadline looming.
Feeling sorely out of practice, I begin again. Praying. After only a week, it’s as if I’ve lost the skill of it. (Skill. That, too, belies what I think of prayer. As if any human can be skilled in conversation with the Holy.) But for all that feels unnatural, even shameful about attempting to pick up where we left off, I begin again. My confidence grows: even praying badly might be welcome with God.
Maybe we should all take turns at praying badly. Maybe then we’d finally shake free of our proud pretensions of being good or doing good. Maybe we’d begin remembering that the only prayer that works, the only “good” prayer is the prayer that makes us small, the kind of prayer that re-proportions that world.
I’m sorry, best said on the knees, is a diminutive act.
Suddenly, you are as small as you need to be.